For the last few years, manufacturers trying to boost market share have asked the developers of CAD, PDM, and collaborative product development tools to help them institute systems for mass customization. Such tools will help them meet market demands for variations on basic products.
While mass customization remains a long-term goal, being able to assemble and/or design products to order should become a reality in the near term, says Bruce Jenkins, executive VP of the consultancy firm Daratech (Cambridge, MA), who sees recently released PTC DynamicDesignLink (DDL) as a step in the right direction.
Design-to-order means creating products that need additional engineering or design work to meet specific customer requirements. DDL isn't the only solution, although it may be the first to tie product specification to parametric design changes. Design++ from Design Power (Cupertino, CA), a product configurator with built-in tools for component sequencing and changes, has a web-based engineer-to-order version called CustomWise. Marc Halpern, a research director for Gartner (Stamford, CT) expects other software developers to move in the direction of design- or customize-to-order, including Centric Software (San Jose, CA).
The users of such systems are trying to move beyond caching standard configurations and standard variations in a PDM system, then pulling them out to create assembled-to-order products. General Motors does just that with EDS PLM Solutions' iMan to simplify the process of putting together a vehicle that may have two or four doors, two- or four-wheel drive, sun roof or moon roof, and so on. But although most PDM systems tailored to enable assemble-to-order processes work fairly smoothly internally, they don't readily communicate with the outside world, from which the specifications come.
PTC DDL goes beyond product configurators, including Design++, because it shows standard components visually, asks for variants, and reuses them—performing as an Internet-based collaboration tool that accepts design requirements, transfers change parameters to the Pro/Engineer CAD model, which makes the requested changes, and shows users visualizations of the designed-to-order results. It also works with AutoCAD and the company says it will work with other CAD programs if enough users demand them.
Herman Miller Furniture (Zealand, MI), a large manufacturer of office furniture, was an early PTC DDL beta user. The company works through a network of dealers who design office space and supply furniture for their customers. It has an in-house, text-based configurator, and currently uses DDL as a visualization tool. "Dealers can access our designs graphically in a web browser and perform such customization activities as dynamic sizing," says Jeff Faber, manager of product development IT for Herman Miller. "It also offers a product portal that lets the dealer's customer choose among configurations. After viewing the customized products design, the dealer will receive the drawings he needs, including customized part drawings."
This kind of speed and agility is exactly what design-to-order customers are seeking. "Manufacturers, particularly those making consumer products, want solutions that help them respond to demand and also respond rapidly to niche-like opportunities," says Daratech's Jenkins. He believes that most CAD and PDM solutions are oriented to in-company variations and not to customer needs. "DynamicDesignLink was conceived to help companies cross their own boundaries and to make it fast and easy to create and finish projects, form ad hoc relationships that last for the duration of the project, and then move on to the next."
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